“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word … it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own mess. Grace isn’t about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace – like saying, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be the good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber
There’s a way of talking about my own shortcomings that somehow puts Me at the centre of my conversation. Even genuine repentance, if you’re not careful, can become a little self-referential. I remember reading a Puritan sermon entitled “The Duty of Constant Repentance” which affected me in this way. You risk the danger of becoming someone who is hyper-self-concious, always over-aware of what you yourself are doing, wearing, saying, and how you yourself are behaving… and acting if the entire world is watching, notebook at the ready.
I realise, of course, that there’s a balance to be found. There’s a place for self-examination. The Psalmist asks “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119) and “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? The one with clean hands and a pure heart.” (Psalm 24)
But the language of the New Testament seems to breathe a different air. “Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another.” (John 1:16) “For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people.” (Titus 2:11) “Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son!” (Ephesians 1:6)
And there it is, the G-Word. Gift. Grace means gift. Gifts are not earned, only received. Any personal navel-gazing that doesn’t take this into account runs the risk of becoming an anxiety-driven salvation-by-works.
Here’s Paul again: “But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.” (Romans 3:24)
“For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
That word “boasting” represents the other side of the self-examination issue. What if, after some rigorous looking in the moral mirror that you conclude that you really don’t look too bad, -quite good in fact- then all of a sudden you have transformed yourself into the baddie in Jesus’ story who thanked God that he was not as other men (especially so-and-so who lives next door, and you know how bad she is, Lord).
So this business of grace is a great leveller. It excludes not only the prurience of self-examination, but also the pride. There can be no classes or ranks here; no insiders and outsiders: “We believe and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.” (Acts 15:11)
And this is a constant way of thinking, a totally new way of life. It’s like the breathing apparatus of a deep-sea diver. It allows you to navigate this whole new Jacques Cousteau world with safety, assurance and growing confidence. “Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.” (Hebrews 4:16) Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings.My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word …
So “As for you, my son, be strong through the grace that is ours in union with Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1) And “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone.” (Revelation 22:21)
Do you realise what that means? It means that God can now become the centre of the conversation! He can now take centre-stage in our lives, and (paradoxically) we become more ourselves than ever before. For our brokenness is not the final word:
“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1)
“I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”